The Veterinary Technology Profession
Harold Davis, Jr, BA, RVT, VTS (Emergency & Critical Care) (Anesthesia & Analgesia)
University of California–Davis
If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future, look into your present actions.
I recently returned from the 2016 NAVC (North American Veterinary Community) Conference where the theme for this year was What Moves You? I reflected on the theme and thought about what moves me with regard to my career as a veterinary technician, and the changes I have witnessed in the profession.
In 1965, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Executive Board decided that the adjective veterinary could not be used with the nouns technician or assistant, leading to the AVMA terminology of animal technician as well as the term animal health technician (AHT).
An article, What’s in a Name?, published in the May 1968 issue of Modern Veterinary Practice, discussed various terms to call veterinary technicians, including animal hospital nurse, animal hospital technologist, and non-professional assistant. However, it was not until 1989 that the AVMA approved the term veterinary technician.
Does this debate sound familiar? A similar discussion is currently taking place: should veterinary technicians be called veterinary nurses? Both then and now, this topic sparks controversy.
OUR PLACE IN THE PRACTICE
When I started in the profession, technicians believed their skills were not used to the fullest, and many states struggled to determine what tasks AHTs and veterinary assistants were allowed to perform. This discussion—how to best utilize veterinary technicians—continues today. Looking back, the highlight of my day was holding an animal for catheter placement or tracheal intubation; both tasks are now routinely performed by veterinary technicians.
Working in a small animal practice continues to be a challenge for technicians. While we see some of the same medical conditions today that we saw when I entered the profession, our understanding of the disease process has advanced, which carries over into how we provide nursing care to our patients. It is important that these hands-on technical skills be accompanied by the ability to think critically. Critical thinking is not innate; fortunately, it is emphasized in today’s veterinary technology curricula.
VOICES IN THE PROFESSION
Prior to 1981, there was no national technician association; then the North American Veterinary Technician Association (now the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America [NAVTA]) was established. There were, however, numerous strong state and local technician associations, many of which are still in existence today.
Presently, technicians serve on AVMA and American Animal Hospital Association committees, professional organizations’ boards (eg, Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, Western Veterinary Conference, and NAVC), and veterinary medical boards and their sub-committees. This presence demonstrates that technicians have a voice in our profession.
I was delighted to be elected as the first non-veterinarian president of the 4000-member Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. I am also honored to be one of three veterinary technicians who have served as board members for the NAVC.
THE JOURNEY TO SPECIALIZATION
Back in the day, no one dreamed of technician specialization. We were busy trying to establish our profession.
In 1994, NAVTA created the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties (CVTS), which was charged with overseeing development of specialty academies. There was some push back from the veterinary community. A letter appeared in the September 1994 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Practitioner Exchange in response to the question, “Is it a good idea to form veterinary technician specialty boards?” The practitioner said, “What is the profession coming to? Why would any general practice want a technician who is advanced trained in fluid therapy, anesthesiology, or clinical pathology? These are the domains of the veterinarian.”
Ultimately, the first technician academy— the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT)—was recognized in 1996, and I am proud to be one of three founding members. I believe our academy has laid the foundation for many other academies, working closely with NAVTA’s CVTS to develop the process of specialty certification and recognition. Now, 20 years later, there are 12 nationally recognized veterinary technician specialties.
EXPANDING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
Educational opportunities are better than ever for veterinary technicians. It is now possible to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in veterinary technology. Whereas only a handful of annual CE meetings were offered years ago, today a major technician CE meeting is held practically every month, and distance learning is another option now available.
Previously, veterinarians spoke to technicians at CE meetings; now veterinary technicians are speaking to veterinary technicians at these conferences. Many technicians, including me, lecture at conferences internationally, enthusiastically sharing knowledge. Likewise, many of us have published journal articles, contributed chapters to textbooks, and edited our own texts.
GROWING INTO THE FUTURE
At 56 years, we are still a relatively young profession. Looking back, we have come a long way in a short period of time; however, we still have some growing to do.
Talk of a name change continues. The profession is looking at a national credentialing process. There are some rumblings of an advanced level veterinary technician on par with a physician assistant. At least three to four specialty groups have hopes of receiving recognition from NAVTA as academies.
The issues facing us are not so different from those of the past, and they will continue to be vigorously debated. It is important to remember that it will take careful listening to all sides, thoughtful planning, and a willingness to find common ground. In the end I believe we all want what is best for our profession; with teamwork, we can achieve it.
WHAT MOVES ME
After 40 years in the profession, I can’t help but be moved. I have had wonderful opportunities to connect with others who share my interests. I have seen, and been a part of, the changes affecting veterinary technicians. I have helped a lot of patients and their owners. I have contributed to the training of future veterinarians at University of California—Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. I have had, and continue to have, the privilege of traveling the world and sharing my knowledge with others.
So, what moves me? Being a witness to change, my passion for this profession, the contributions I have made and hope to make, and my enthusiasm to see what the future holds. I hope I have shared with you a glimpse of the past, with an eye to the future.
—Harold Davis, Jr
Director, NAVC Board of Directors